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Lawmakers to Investigate US Policy Toward Iraq - 2002-07-30

The U.S. Senate is set to open hearings Wednesday into the U.S. policy of regime change toward Iraq. While the Bush administration continues to say no decisions on how to achieve that have been made, it has left no doubt military force is under consideration. But the White House is having problems convincing many that it may, once again, have to go to war with Iraq.

Just about every time he's asked, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld restates the administration view that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein is well on his way to rebuilding weapons of mass destruction and holds out little hope of seeing a return of U.N. weapons inspectors. Mr. Rumsfeld said, "They have chemical weapons and biological weapons and an appetite for nuclear weapons and have been working on them for many years and that there's an awful lot that we don't know about their programs."

President Saddam told his nation Tuesday such allegations are "a tall story" and denounced U.S. threats to Iraq as a deliberate attempt to stop development of Arab and Muslim countries.

But increasingly, the White House appears to be tilting toward the option of making Iraq the next target in the war on terrorism. Although they are upset about them, administration officials stop short of denying leaked reports in the New York Times quoting unnamed U.S. officials as saying a large scale invasion is one option being prepared for the president. Mr. Rumsfeld continued, "I think we've discussed things and talked about things to the extent that they've matured and developed in a fairly forthright, direct way."

Still, some of America's closest allies in Europe and the Middle East, who were part in the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition 11 years ago, are not, at least in public, supporting the military option. As he headed to Washington, Jordan's King Abdullah told a British newspaper some elements within the American government are fixated, as he put it, on attacking Iraq, saying such a move, absent progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, would open a Pandora's box. It's true that deep divisions appear to have surfaced within the Bush Administration particularly between the State Department and the Pentagon - over the wisdom of attacking Iraq, something this week's Senate hearings into administration policy will explore.

Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman said, "We've got to act strongly and quickly in the interests of our national security to take Saddam out of power in Baghdad. I am troubled about what appears to be the indecision within the Bush administration about that. The president has talked tough but so far has not carried a big stick."

Next week, members of the Iraqi National Congress, an opposition group, made up of Iraqi exiles who receive funding from the United States will again be in Washington to strategize. But for the first time, they will meet together with officials from both the State Department and the Pentagon, an indication that the administration may have gone some distance toward resolving interagency differences over possible military action against Iraq.